“You look hot today. What’s with the glow?” “Oh you seem so tense. Let me give you a neck massage.” “Why don’t we discuss this over a drink and dinner? Kaam bhi hojayega aur thoda timepass bhi.” “You can tell me anything, you know.” “You know I don’t get along with my wife. I am practically single.” “Don’t be such a spoilt sport, it was just a joke. Wasn’t it funny?” “Check this funny video on my phone.” “Don’t be a behenji. Stay a little longer. Have another drink. I will drop you.” “What shall I get you for your birthday? Let’s make it special.”
And it can go on. Is it harmless and innocent banter or does it reek of intentions to seek sexual favours? While none of these can be effectively proven to be “sexual harassment at work place” every woman, girl, female employee, who has worked with creeps (and I think that would be a big number) will squirm as she reads these comments, which may just remind her of some such weird and offensive experience.
What happens to Tarun Tejpal and the complainant will pretty much remain in public domain, much to the painful agony of the girl. Ironically, that may ensure a semblance of investigation and justice. However, women deal with over-friendly and subsequently hostile (if they complain) colleagues and bosses on regular basis. Several complex reasons ensure that these incidents do not reach their logical end-- that is punitive action for the offender and protection of rights of the complainant as an employee and a human being.
“Although am shocked about the extent of assault in the Tehelka case, I am not surprised that such a thing happened. It exists and we all know it exists,” said a former journalist who spoke of an editor insisting on giving her a neck massage when she was barely 22. However, it is not limited to the media industry.
“When I was working on a project with a male line manager, I asked him how it had turned out. He was happy with the output and I casually asked, 'So what’s my reward?' He said something so offensive that I cannot even mention it. Subsequently, there was a complaint and action. Since then I ensure that he doesn’t come anywhere near me,” said an administrative executive, who lost her spontaneity that day. Some may argue that she asked for it. Just as some who argue that women in short skirts ask for rape.
“If I did not have my husband’s support when this started happening at my bank, I would have been shattered. I eventually had to quit, despite repeated complaints. He was let off with a warning for rude behaviour,” said another bank employee who shifted to a much smaller company but with more friendly and supportive atmosphere. She said she had complained to a female boss and was shocked that she received no support from her, a woman.
It seems to boil down to authority, power, and saving your own derriere. No one wants to associate with a complainant, usually woman, not only junior to the perpetrator, usually man, but also on a sticky wicket sans tangible proof. “Usually you are told to ignore, avoid, and not pay attention. Often you are considered to be of “funny” (read loose) character because it has happened to you and not other women,” says another.
If you can get past all this and insist on a formal complaint to the committee, it starts with forming a committee. Despite the clear Vishaka guidelines, existence of such committees is rare. Companies say that their HR can take care of these issues. Not to mention the power that lies with the usually hastily formed committee, like the one that was sought to be formed, or at least announced, in the case of Tehelka too.
“In many situations, women encounter a complaints committee with members, who do not have an orientation to the issue of violence against women and, more specifically, to the nuances of sexual harassment at the workplace as a form of violence. It is seen that the complaints committees approach cases through various myths about women, applying commonsense notions, and hearsay information about the complaint and the complainant,” writes Anagha Sarpotdar, a researcher on the subject of Sexual Harassment at Workplace and an activist who has often sat on these committees.
“Such ideas include the beliefs that only women, who are provocatively dressed, are sexually harassed; that decent women do not get sexually harassed; that if a woman is too friendly with men, she is inviting trouble; and a general suspicion that many women make up and report false stories of sexual harassment to get back at the men who have angered them.
Committee members often fail to see the links between gender inequality in the family, society at large and its extension at the workplace. This leads them to treat sexual harassment as a problem between the woman and the perpetrator only, and not an issue for the organisation. Inquiries are seen as a burden on the committee and a waste of the resources of the organization.”
Women are scolded and scrutinised at home for unwanted male attention; they are whistled at, groped and manhandled on the road, by random people; taunted and looked at, scoffed at and sexually harassed at work. And if they manage to cross the hurdles, and do well at the job, it is because they flirted, looked hot, seduced or slept with the boss. It sounds harsh, but it is common if not rampant.
No doubt, there are examples of “the other way round,” where women have used sexuality and authority to achieve their ambitions. But that issue is of breakdown of ethics at workplace, which applies in equal measure for men and women.
Here we speak of overtures that have not been sought. Here we speak of women who did not know how to handle the verbal abuse and therefore did not react adequately. “If you snap, you come across as snooty and no-nonsense. Then you get the bad shifts and bad assignments because you do not want to be friends with bosses after work hours. I was ok with bad shifts because I remember feeling violated when someone made a pass at me at my previous job,” says another former journalist.
So where does that leave you? “There is no option but to stand up for yourself as soon as something happens. If you can’t do that for yourself, no one will. One needs to make a noise, shame the person in public and send a clear signal that one won’t take crap,” says a woman, who points out that even when she screamed at the offender in a room full of people, everyone looked but no one really stepped in. “No matter how big or small the incident may be, every one needs to point it out, complain and make a noise about it. If you let it pass, he will only get bolder,” she says, reminding of the audacity of Tarun Tejpal, a rape accused now.
When you went to school, college, university no one told you about this “internal matter” battle in the closed-door meetings and outbound training sessions. But who are you kidding? Did you not see this coming? It happens in the family, on the road and in the classroom. What option do you have but clench your fists and fight back? That is not the only thing to do but also the only right thing to do.
and FYI -
For Information of all : Definition of Sexual Harassment as per the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013
Section 354 A.
1. A man committing any of the following acts—
i. physical contact and advances involving unwelcome and explicit sexual overtures; or
ii. a demand or request for sexual favours; or
iii. showing pornography against the will of a woman; or
iv. making sexually coloured remarks, shall be guilty of the offence of sexual harassment.
2. Any man who commits the offence specified in clause (I) or clause (ii) or clause (iii) of sub-section (I) shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.
3. Any man who commits the offence specified in clause (iv) of sub-section (I) shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both